The Guardian 25 April, 2007


The "Pacific solution" stretched to the US

In an extraordinary agreement with the US, the Howard Government has arranged a swap of up to two hundred "unwanted" refugees. It is clearly a political fix enabling Howard to get rid of embarrassing refugees from Sri Lanka and Burma who are now on Nauru and for the US government to get rid of a number of Cubans and Haitians who have been picked up by US coast guards and transported to Guantanamo Bay.

Both governments are ignoring their obligations under the United Nations refugee conventions and are treating the persons concerned as pieces of "unwanted" rubbish who have no rights and will have no say as to where they might go. In both cases the legal processes of the two countries are being denied the refugees.

It is not clear how these refugees are to be treated once they have been swapped. Will the Cubans Haitians once arrived in Australia have access to Australia’s legal system, will they be granted permanent residence and will they be offered citizenship? Could they also be imprisoned in some immigration detention centre? Will they have to pass the normal health and language checks that other migrants have to pass — or will the statements of the US authorities be accepted at face value.

Kevin Andrews, Minister for Immigration, attempted to excuse his actions (but not his conscience which is non-existent) by claiming that it would cost less to ship them off to the US than to deport them. But the rights of refugees call for them to be properly processed according to refugee conventions and to have access to Australian law.

The same violations are taking place in the US. Refugees are being physically prevented from setting foot on American soil, are arrested and shipped off to the outrageous and indecent Guantanamo Bay prison. It is some of these refugees who it is now proposed to shanghai to Australia.

John Howard claimed that the government’s tough policy "will resonate around the region and will drive home the point that this country will not compromise in relation to illegal immigration". What will resonate around the world is the immorality of the Australian government, its inhumanity and its violation of international refugee rights.

That the number of refugees around the world is rapidly increasing is a fact. This is due to the failure of the wealthy countries to adopt policies that will allow for the economic development of many former colonial countries. It is the result of wars being waged or promoted in other countries. It is estimated that up to three million Iraqis have been forced to flee their homeland by the criminal war in Iraq.

Thousands Somalis have been turned into refugees in Somalia as a result of the invasion of that country by Ethiopian troops — an action supported by the US. Millions have been turned into refugees as the result of the civil war in the Sudan.

Increasingly the rich western countries are turning their backs on the consequences of their own policies. This is happening in the rich European countries as well as by the US and Australia.

Refugee advocates in Australia have branded the agreement with the US as bizarre, shocking and an election fix.

But the immoral Australia-US quick-fix will do nothing to help overcome the world-wide flood of refugees.

People do not become refugees except as a result of poverty, lack of health care, jobs, housing and water shortage. These are the economic refugees. Others flee their homelands because of war. These are the real refugee problems that have to be fixed.

It will take new radical governments dedicated to peace and development to change the present disastrous situation facing millions upon millions of the world’s people. The technology and the resources are already available including the creative abilities of humankind.

What is missing is the consciousness and willingness of many to throw out the governments which stubbornly resist any real change because they represent those who hold the power and the money and who will not give up their power irrespective of the killings and the suffering that their policies create. They also control the media which brainwashes millions. But a different world is possible.

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